Catholic education keeps eye on eternal

Forming our future
By Jeannie Roberts
The significant role of catechists, teachers and staff in a Catholic school setting is to shape and mold children for eternity. Our walk, our talk and our sharing of our own faith in our daily lives, as well as our personal journey, all help a child to grow to love Jesus.
Our journeys are all different – some filled early with much sadness as well as much joy. Jesus walks with us daily as a teacher and guides us to be the light in the darkness, the joy in the sorrow, the calmness in the storm and the compassion and hope to the downtrodden.
Jesus lives in us and we live in him. Our mission is not only to educate with knowledge, but to fill the hearts of children with spiritual qualities that help them to grow as disciples of Jesus. As the 12 apostles were chosen, we teachers have also been chosen and we are answering the call to know, love and serve the Lord through the children we teach. Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
At St. Elizabeth School we try to make our students aware of the poor and less fortunate. We minister to them throughout the year by collecting food and taking it weekly to church at our school Masses. Students sometimes help store, sack and pass out the food when the needy come to receive it. This ministry is organized by Michael and Jackie Jacob of our parish along with teacher Sue Craig.
Eternity involves more than feeding the bodies of the less fortunate. Students write letters to shut-ins, nursing home patients and the elderly of our parish, to let them know they are thought of and are being remembered in prayer. Throughout Lent, classes send a “footnote” to parishioners of their choice, relatives or friends. Small notes in the shape of a foot have a greeting on the front and a short note written by each student on the back.
Students also serve and lead the singing at our Masses, all while learning what their faith is about. Many non-Catholics are being exposed to the loving community of believers; some families sometimes even join the church when their children start attending the school. Evangelization is at its best when a parent tells you how their heart has been touched by their child’s praying and that the family desires to join the church.
Students are also encouraged daily to act the way Jesus would act in each and every situation. They have a morning devotional read on the intercom and then recite the school’s pledge, “Eagle Endeavors,” created by Jane Rutz and Georgette Sabbatini. The pledge is as follows:
E – Embrace the teachings of the Holy Bible;
A – Act generously to those in need;
G – Grow academically;
L – Love sincerely;
E – Entrust my family, my school and myself to God’s care;
S – Strive for kindness with every thought, word and action.
At the end of each month we take one of the “Eagle Endeavors” and the teachers vote on a class who has exemplified that chosen endeavor. The Advisory Council then treats the winning class. The prize may be a free dress day, pizza, ice cream party, picnic etc.
Students from first-sixth grades lead the Stations of the Cross each Friday during Lent, discuss Lenten practices and write on a cross in the rotunda what they will do for someone or what they might give up for Lent. All students participate.
As a student body, they gather weekly to pray for the needs of the parish, the sick and their own personal needs. We often say a decade of the rosary for the seriously ill and suffering parishioners. The sixth grade students will hold the hands of the younger children and walk them to their cars in the pickup lines.
We as teachers try to listen and respond to the problems our children may have in their worlds. Many children need a friend to help them through the struggles in their lives. We refer serious problems to the counseling program offered in the Delta through our diocese. Father Scott Thomas, our pastor, meets and talks to students about their problems, or he will talk to a class on how to treat fellow classmates if the need arises.
Some students have had experiences that we as adults have not had to face yet – be it the death of a sibling, parent, or grandparent – and just need a compassionate person to help them through a difficult journey in their life. Our teachers and school can be the calm in the storm. We will never know our influence on our students.
God has called us by name and we follow the call to know, love and serve Him through our role as teachers which covers more than grade level books and different teaching techniques. Our vocations touch the heart and soul of each and every child we teach. We thank God for calling us on this special journey to be light in the darkness, joy in the sorrow, calm in the storm, company to the lonely and compassion and hope to the downtrodden.
(Jeannie Roberts is the principal of Clarksdale St. Elizabeth School.)